From the Pen of the President: December 2019
NASW-Illinois Chapter President Grisel Rodríguez-Morales, MSW, LCSW
Last month we celebrated the much anticipated 2019 NASW-Illinois Chapter Statewide Conference: A Meeting of the Professions. The comments offered by attendees were very positive and helped us make of this a very successful conference that continues to offer much more than continuing education. Over the course of the three days, more than 800 attendees made it to the conference to enjoy more than 70 workshops and several networking opportunities. I truly enjoyed meeting with emerging and experienced social workers who visited our membership table as well as with representatives from over 50 organizations at the exhibit hall who offered valuable information about their services and/or available job opportunities. Attendees were very appreciative of the many workshops available and the opportunity to increase their knowledge and improve the care and services they provide to clients. In these workshops, a great pool of talent offered the latest in social work practice, advocacy, and research.
At the pre-conference educational event opened to those attending the full conference, I enjoyed listening to the perspectives of a group of brilliant women who have used social work as a pathway to leadership. They have used exchangeable social work skills (especially active listening and empathy) to almost simultaneously work on micro, mezzo, and macro systems; and as a result, improve service delivery systems, public policy, and better the lives of those they serve. I greatly appreciate them recognizing something that many times I also point out to social work students and those new to our profession—that NASW is a voice for all of us! As we set up to challenge systems and the status quo, it’s very reassuring that you can turn to our professional association for support, resources, knowledge, and guidance.
At the conference opening session which focused on the challenges faced by social workers when addressing trauma, Lu Rocha, MA, MSW, LCSW, reminded us of the importance of self-care. Hearing that “empathy is our superpower as well as our kryptonite” was powerful, as it illustrates the importance of balancing our responses to traumatic experiences and practicing self-compassion. As we handle complex cases and systems, in a 24/7 culture where we’re seemingly unable to unplug, attending to our own needs is more important than ever. It’s not simple, but self-care can start with at least recognizing thoughts and feelings we may be experiencing and that are possibly thwarting our work and services we’re trying to provide. As Lu said, empathy won’t do anything, if we don’t practice self-compassion.
Other pristine workshops offering equally valuable information included the two-part workshop with NASW Board of Directors Region Representative Ruth Lipschutz, LCSW, ACSW, on ethical considerations in telehealth technology. Ruth offered not only a wealth of resources but also answered the significant number of questions from the audience with her characteristic professionalism, honesty, and expertise. Ruth reminded us that it is us, as providers of services, who are the HIPPA-compliant, not the apps or software we’re using.
Another special occasion at the conference was the networking reception where we recognized social workers and individuals who have made significant contributions in our profession. The 2019 Public Citizen of the Year was awarded to James McIntyre who, after his experience as a ward of the state of Illinois and suffering years of abuse at home, became an advocate for aged-out foster youth in Illinois. James helped create Illinois’ first chapter of the Foster Care Alumni of America where as president and unpaid lobbyist for the organization, he pushed for key legislation. James also testified on his own trauma in the foster system and helped the NASW-Illinois Chapter lobby and pass the landmark 2018 foster youth tuition waiver bill which now provides aged-out youth a pass to a college degree.
Nina O’Brien, MSW, LCSW, accepted the 2019 Emerging Leader award. Nina is the local recovery coordinator for VA Illiana Health Care System where she works to promote whole health and recovery-oriented care within the VA system. She launched a trauma-sensitive yoga program at VA Illiana in 2015. We’re quite pleased to recognize her interventions and interest in incorporating mind, body, and spirit into her daily social work practice.
Marta Lundy, PhD, LCSW, professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work, is the 2019 Social Worker of the Year awardee. It gives us great pleasure to recognize her work and research. At Loyola, Martha has integrated social work practice with family violence and refugees and immigrants, both in Chicago and Mexico.
The 2019 Lifetime Achievement award was presented to Stanley McCracken, PhD, LCSW for his stellar 40-year social work career as clinician, educator, and consultant. Stanley is a recognized expert in mental health and substance abuse treatment and has been a leading advocate connecting research with practice to teach mental health and substance abuse treatment. He has written about psychiatric rehabilitation, addiction, behavioral pharmacology, behavioral medicine, aging, motivational interviewing, and staff training. It was a delight to share this moment with his equally accomplished wife, where many recognized their contributions to the profession.
All these moments at the conference were possible by the NASW-Illinois Chapter staff and leadership as well as numerous social work students who so eagerly served as workshop monitors and carried out other key tasks. With such a village and great success, I’m already looking forward to our conference in 2021!